Mental health and student life
A YouGov survey conducted in 2016 found that one in four university students in the UK struggle with their mental health.
This ranges from those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness through to vast numbers who are battling with stress and worry: 63% of students say that they feel levels of stress that interfere with their day-to-day lives. Among those who identify as struggling with mental health problems, anxiety and depression are the most common.
Mental illness can still be a taboo subject in Christian circles as much as it is in the rest of society, but it’s worth remembering a couple of things:
- Humans are created to have and experience all sorts of emotions, and Christians living in a fallen world are not exempt from pain and illness (whether physical or mental). We thank God for His common grace to us in giving us doctors and counsellors and medicines to help us manage all sorts of illness (including mental illness), as well as recognising that whilst we often can’t help the illness that we suffer from, we can, as those united to Christ by the Spirit, help the way that we respond to and in our illness.
- God gives us His Word to comfort us, and His people to encourage and support us, so it's important to make the most of both.
Being a Christian, and even a Christian who’s taking a lead at church or in CU, doesn’t render us immune to mental illness, any more than to catching a cold, breaking a bone or getting cancer.
Equally, mental illness doesn’t disqualify us from leadership. God can and does use us through all these different problems of life.
As a CU Staff Worker, working with students who are suffering, we’re committed to helping them to obtain appropriate support – being cared for by their local church, and seeking professional treatment from their GP or through university counselling services. But we also want to keep working with those students and keep helping them as they continue in their efforts to share the gospel within their campus.
It has been my privilege to walk alongside a number of different student leaders as they’ve worked through issues of faith and life in the midst of depression, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, PTSD and anxiety. Having had my own experiences of mental illness, I’m able to share something of the way that God has helped and guided me through it. It has been, and continues to be, a great joy to see Paul’s words in the opening verses of 2 Corinthians worked out in practice:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Thankfully, the gospel remains good and true in the midst of the darkness of mental illness, even though it is sometimes hard to hold on to.
Ellie Cook is a Staff Worker with Durham CU and has many years experience of student mission, both in the UK and in South Africa.
How do you hold onto the goodness and truth of the gospel in the midst of mental illness, and help others to do the same? Let us know using #CUNews
Read more on how students are practically holding out the gospel to those struggling with their mental health.